by Stormy Daniels, Early-childhood Educator
Every child deserves to learn in such a way that prepares them for their future. As educators, it is not up to us to decide who will be successful, but rather, to design rich learning environments that personally empower each child along their journey. Learning should not be seen as a block of time or an assignment to do, but rather, through the lens of real-world connections where students share ideas and work to solve problems that affect us all. Even the youngest students can see themselves as positive change-makers and begin to discover they matter, they are important, and they are not alone. Providing these experiences is not enough. We must also maximize our time to ensure that every child has the foundational skills needed to collaborate and communicate in their world.
Seeing Ourselves as Leaders
The rewards of teaching are plentiful to me. Every day I get to cheer students on as they become the best they can be. When I design for learning, my goal is to create adventures that show that there are no walls holding us in. For example, students begin every year with a Zoom call where authors join our class and share with us challenges, they have overcome, their inspirations as writers, and encourage us to see the power in our own words. This event launches our year-long “What Authors Do” challenge that would not be successful without students leading their learning. After this, students are inspired to become better readers and writers. The interactive meetings allow students to connect with those with similar lifetime experiences and set the desire for students to create and lead reading and writing workshops. Seeing themselves in those who inspire allows students to believe that they too can be impactful leaders.
Bringing the Desire to Lead to Life
My beliefs amplify the need for students to see themselves as leaders and as an essential part of their own learning. To set a foundation for the classroom culture, we deep-dive into positive character building. On day one of each school year, we begin with an exploration of our campus core values. Then, we move into ‘Team Building Week’, where we learn the value of responsibility. During this time, students brainstorm norms, expectations, and team jobs. These jobs have included Team Leader, Technology Expert, Conflict Manager, and Equipment Manager, just to name a few. Something unique about these jobs is that they do not exist until the students discover there is a need. After setting expectations of each position, students will apply for the jobs, where they feel they can best serve the team and class. Students then review the applications and agree on who is best for each role. The crucial time given for student to create their own leadership enables us to quickly become a well-functioning student-led environment. Emphasizing our purpose for leading motivates students to push through challenges together and focus on supporting each other with their goals.
Benefits of Student-Led Learning
To maximize daily instructional time, I purposefully use technology to incorporate blended learning and station rotation models to create personalized paths to proficiency for each student. The classroom is alive with students engaged in learner-centered innovative practices. To ease this, students follow a Wakelet powered gameboard that includes ‘Must-Do’, ‘Should-Do’ and ‘Aspire to Do’ activities. These activities ensure foundational skills in every subject are practiced daily, while providing student choice and opportunities to apply skills to problem-based projects. Student-centered workstations empower students to work towards their goals while receiving personalized support that is grounded in best practices.
To step into our classroom is to step into a world of inquiry and excitement. Visitors are welcomed by the sounds of student chatter filling their senses. Student autonomy and pride are clear as they work to support each other on their path to proficiency. We are proud to invite you into our journey. After a time, you may discover the teacher on the side, focused with a group of eager adventurers. Our door is always open, our Zoom is always on, and we welcome other classes to join in our journey to become the best we can be.